1. Favorite hotels.
Niki Hotel has to rank up there. It's not a complete Cheapo, but it's strikingly inexpensive considering its rates, location, and décor. It's simply a great deal, with very pleasing modern design in the rooms, a central location, and a lovely ground floor lounge. Niki is the sort of hotel you look forward to returning to for a little nap after lunch on a hot afternoon.
Cecil Hotel is another fantastic hotel with surprisingly low rates. The owners are deservedly very proud of Cecil. It feels so wonderfully dated, as in Old World. Towels bear the insignia of the hotel, and rooms are cozy and warm. There's an inviting little lounge off to the side of the reception area, an ideal place for a nightcap.
2. Favorite thing about working in Athens.
I love how friendly hotel proprietors are in Athens. It really makes my job so much easier when hotel owners are proud of their properties and interested in extolling the virtues of their hotels. After previous experiences reviewing hotels in northern European cities, I was delighted by the default openness I found in Athens.
3. What surprised you about Athens?
What surprised me about Athens, I have to admit, was how easy it was to navigate. The Greek alphabet had me worried. I've been in other places where an alphabet I'm not familiar with is used and such places can be very difficult to get around. In Athens, all street signs are in the Roman as well as the Greek alphabet. This makes getting around dramatically easier.
Additionally, Athens turned out to be very clean. I was expecting a much dirtier city. All the stories about Athens I remembered from my youth painted a picture of a city that was full of fumes and smog. The air quality appeared to be quite good during my visit.
4. Funny story.
I couldn't believe how friendly and direct Athens hotel proprietors were. I received more invitations to coffee or a cool drink than I could ever have hoped for. I guess this is more of a delightful story than a funny one! I did get mistaken for Greek many times, however, and that's another delightful thing I didn't expect.
5. City secret.
This isn't necessarily the biggest secret, but I think that Koukaki is a great neighborhood. It's one metro stop (or a short walk) from the entrance to the Acropolis, and it's not much farther than that from Plaka and Monastiraki. Despite its proximity to the action, it's a quiet, leafy area with a wonderful pedestrian street, Drakou.
6. Favorite food.
My favorite meals in Athens were eaten standing up. A €2 ggyro sandwich encased in pita bread, mmm. Greek yogurt, which we happily now have in New York City, was another daily staple. I can confirm the obvious: Fage yogurt is even more delicious in Athens than it is after it survives its transatlantic export journey.